Friday, June 29, 2012

The Farce Perpetuated

On Tuesday I admitted that I used to believe in "how to do magic" books. Now, another confession:

I want to create such books.


Not for the purpose of tricking children. There is a purely psychological reason - it will make me feel more like a magician.

I am not yet so sure in my identity that I can say "I am a magician" without the trappings. No, I don't walk around in sumptuous cloaks, and I don't wear pointy hats, and I don't have bottles with pickled lizards lined up on my windowsill.

(My cat would knock them over.)

What I do have:

A shell, a twig from the bag of sunflower seeds, some of my baby teeth, a candle, a sprig from a plant that my cat was eating, books, books, and books.

Not enough.

I want to have leatherbound tomes in which are writ the secrets of spells and talismans and mysterious things. But don't worry that I'm giving myself over to affectation - there's a practical reason, too. I've got a lot of magic systems going on in many of my stories, and I need to figure them out.


Recently I read a book that left me cold except for a mention of notebooks full of alchemical formulas and details about experiments.

But that's not a magical textbook, that's a magician's notebook. Yes, you guessed it, I want one of those too.

It's more attainable than you'd think.

I have a lot of notebooks left over from elementary school. One, I've been using for notes on subjects from the history of China to Rainer Maria Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet."

This is as close as I will get. I do not live in an ivory tower, and my kind of magician is one whose magic takes the form of creative output. My (magician's?) notebook is closest to a commonplace book, with observations and reading notes. (see Appendix A)

In a way, this blog is a public version of such - the same content, just better curated (if I wanted this blog to only showcase my work, I would have kept the name Apathetic Insanity).

Where am I going with this? Content will begin to incorporate material from my physical note/books. You may see notes on various topics, descriptions of magic systems, compilations of poems/quotes on a certain theme, oddities.

There's a method to my madness, I just don't know for sure what form it will take. I seem to have, in the last few months, lost my way with this blog. Now, I am conducting an experiment, or rather, an expedition, to find a new way to go.



Appendix A:

I will look beyond myself. I will synthesize creativity, I will do alchemy.

Here is my vision of what a magician's notebook contains:

  • Found things.  Feathers and plants tucked among the pages.
  • Words of others.  Quotations from famous wizards of the past, advice, inspirations.
  • Reminders to self.  "I need more snake bones."  "Scrying mirror has a scratch.  Ask hedgewitch about possible effects on use."
  • Progress.  Stages of a ritual as they happen.  Records of magical conferences.  Improvements on spellcasting.  Dreams and their significance.
  • Spells.  Procedures and rituals for specific spells.  Source and history.  Characteristics of different kinds of spells.  Notes on differences between diverse magic systems.
  • Field studies.  Observations.  Conversations with dragons.  Sketches of place.

    Tuesday, June 26, 2012

    But It is Such a Lovely Farce

    "How to: Magic"

    Right on cue, little me's eyes go wide.


    I will be the first to admit that when I could express my age in a single digit, I was taken in by "how to do magic" books.  I honestly thought I could learn magic from them.  Even now, when I read in fantasy books that characters look up spells or somesuch from a text, I think, I want that.

    I want to learn magic.

    What was little me going to do when confronted with books that promised to do just that? Ignore them? No, of course not.

    And besides, sometimes the books even work.


    Book Of Wizardry: The Apprentice's Guide to the Secrets of the Wizards' Guild
    The Book of Wizardry, by Cornelius Rumstuckle

    Yes, I thought I could learn magic from this book.  Did I?

    No way, you would guess.  But wait - you do not yet know that this is the book that caused me to start recording my dreams.  And some of the other advice was quite useful: methods of relaxation, meditation, memory.

    I cannot call up storms.  My "Wizard's Chalice" or whatever it was called holds my toothbrush.  Yet all it takes is for me to flip through the book a little and I feel calmer, more like a magician (which I what I'm identifying myself as, if only informally).

    It looks like such a ludicrous book, but it has been so useful to me in little ways that even embarrassment at my gullibility can't stop me from liking it.


    But perhaps I was too literal. Surely learning magic is not so easy as that.

    Go subtler. Go to fantasy books where the characters learn magic, and copy what they do.

    Think I'm joking? I'm not.

    Fine: most of the time, the books assume that natural affinity for magic is a prerequisite. Don't make things explode when you're angry? You're out of luck. A society in which magic is well-established helps, too. But there are no wizards seeking apprentices in my town, and when we say chem in school we mean chemistry, not alchemy.

    Still, the dreams of childhood do not let up easily. And sometimes, you find not what you were expecting but what you need.

    Here is a passage from Sea of Trolls, by Nancy Farmer, describing the main character's magic training:
    (Photo credit: Goodreads)
    "Look around you...Feel the wind, smell the air. Listen to the birds and watch the sky. Tell me what's happening in the wide world."
    Magic through patience and observation. I can believe in that. No matter how intrigued I am by the trappings of a magician - globes of the moon, amulets, pentagrams, oracle bones - my concept of a magician is as much someone who thinks differently, who sees the world differently, as someone who has "stuff".

    But still - if you've got a magic textbook that you don't want, I'll be glad to take it off your hands.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2012


    I'm back from China. Visited: Shanghai, both sides of my extended family. Anhui has amazing scenery; hopefully I'll have pictures by Friday.

    1. Hey, seatbelts exist.
    2. So do traffic laws.
    3. I'm not tall anymore.
    4. Amy and Gunter are a lot like Katniss and Peeta.
    5. What to do with these renminbi?

    But most of all:
    6. It is good to see my cat, and the blue sky.



    In China there is a town called Hefei. My mom told me a joke about it: "两个胖子一起坐."


    Bonus II:

    "The State of Dreaming" - Marina and the Diamonds

    I live my life inside a dream
    Only waking when I sleep
    If I could sell my sorry soul
    I would have it all
    My life is a play, is a play, is a play

    Friday, June 1, 2012


    The gleaming towers of Edinburgh rose before me out of the clouds. They looked like spikes of ice with roses frozen inside them: the sun was rising behind me, and I was grateful for the goggles clamped over my eyes.

    Over the crackle of the radio came the voice of the landing operator, directing me to the landing dock on the 108th floor of the Karelian Embassy. I gave an affirmative, but my mind wasn't in it. I'd been flying long enough that I could run on automatic until the time came to dock, and I wanted to appreciate the sight of the city in front of me, pristine and luminous, before the reality of conference rooms, and the duality of opulence and poverty that plagues all big cities imposed itself on me.

    The sky was beautiful. To the west, it was still dark blue, lightening and morphing into lavenders and reaching finger the pale yellow of old bone. This, I thought, is why I fly.

    Suddenly, my copilot said, "Jarmo, watch out! We've got to lose altitude!"

    "What?" I said, but my hands were already twisting dials and flipping switches. Our plane dropped fast but smooth, and in a moment I had gathered myself and could look up to see what was going on.

    "Oh," I said. Above us, moving north like a great ponderous whale in summer, was an airship that made our plane look like a goldfish. It was massive, all light-absorbing Cappadocian steel, the kind that looks like obsidian. On the underbelly of the ship was painted an insignia in red and gold. As the ship moved over us, the insignia resolved itself: a pit scorpion, the sign of the Mojavian Empire.

    My copilot said, "What's their problem? There's not supposed to be anyone else in the air right now!"

    I was about to reply, but then something caught my eye. A series of portholes came into sight, and in one of them was a face that -

    I blinked. Was that...

    Triangular head, wide mouth, large dark black-hole eyes. Sad eyes, that seemed to look into infinity. alien?

    I leaned forward to get a closer look, but the line of portholes passed, and it was gone.


    Written in English class. Expansion? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Thoughts?


    I am going to be in China for the next two weeks. West to the Orient: that's how we do things on a round planet.

    See you all on June 19.